PHOENIX — Last season the Phoenix Suns won 54 regular season games and head coach Alvin Gentry estimated superb bench play was directly related to winning 20 of them.
But at the moment Gentry does not appear to have the same kind of confidence in his reserves as he has gone with a quick hook this past week in fear of losing a lead before the starters return.
“It seems they’re lacking a little confidence and rhythm, cohesion,” Steve Nash said. “They just have to play through it and fight and hustle and keep that energy up. When things aren’t going your way and you’re struggling a little bit for confidence you can’t drop your head and lose your energy, you have to keep fighting and pick your energy up. I feel like they’ve gotten a little down on themselves and lost energy and they just need to keep being confident.”
Added Gentry: “We’ve got to get back to having them play at that level and then having the confidence to leave them in.”
Every starter played between 33-38 minutes in Houston as the reserves were subpar, and then the non-Hedo starters played between 43-49 against the Bulls, when Josh Childress was a -16 and Jared Dudley a -10.
Gentry was sure to go to his bench a little longer Friday against the Clippers, but Goran Dragic lost 15 points in his 18 minutes of play and Childress was a -11 in 15 scoreless minutes.
Part of their lack of time is just a numbers crunch, as Gentry acknowledged he can’t afford to stick with Childress at the expense of guys like J-Rich and Grant Hill who are playing so well. Although it’s always tempting to get Nash back in early when Dragon isn’t attacking well, Gentry feels it’s best to wait until the six-minute mark of the fourth to bring back Nash even if he puts others starters back in, which obviously was not what happened against the Bulls.
The Suns will always lack for interior size barring a trade, but they can develop the kind of dynamic second unit that was so instrumental last season. Growing pains and rough stretches like last week’s are to be expected, but Channing Frye for one expects this unit to become explosive down the road.
“I think last year at the beginning of the year our second group kind of went through the same thing,” he said. “It’s just going to take one game for them to click and everyone knows their roles and positions and then boom. It’s going to be like, ‘Where did that come from?’ It’s just going to be awesome. I think we really need them if we want to win.”
Hedo struggles to get loose while Warrick shines
There’s no two ways about it, Hedo Turkoglu was awful last night against the Clippers while Hakim Warrick was awesome.
That’s prompted some debate in the comments section of that game story about a lineup switch, which I’ve been writing about since the outdoors game, but let’s throw Hedo a bone for a second.
Turkoglu’s back bothered him after taking a spill against the Bulls, and he was once again doomed by foul trouble while taking on an impossible matchup against Blake Griffin.
“I wasn’t really feeling good at all,” Turkoglu said. “I just couldn’t get in the game. I was stiff in my back, just trying to get loose and get two quick fouls, sit on the bench, try to get loose again, get another two quick fouls.
“I was feeling good until tonight. I had a good road trip, so I was pretty much comfortable [with the team before].”
Turkoglu had racked up lines of 18-5, 15-8 and 10-10 in his previous three games, so it’s not like he had been terrible before Friday’s 0-1-2 performance with four fouls and a missed layup in 15 minutes. Gentry rightfully went with the hot hand, and Warrick delivered his Phoenix career high.
The Phoenix coach has also been going with Warrick for longer stretches with the starters and giving Hedo more time with the reserves. Then like in the Chicago game, he’s gone with both power forwards at different times down the stretch.
In a way Warrick has become a starter in every way except for hearing his name introduced and playing the first few minutes, so while I still think Warrick would be better as a starter this arrangement works for me as well.
No time for Clark
The one guy who has yet to get much of a chance is Earl Clark.
Clark busted out a 12-6-2 in garbage time in Orlando and played a few decent minutes in Charlotte, but he has not gotten off the bench since.
“I thought he went in and did a good job, played well and I thought he was terrific,” Gentry said. “The minutes that he was in there he did what we asked him to do.”
Gentry added that Clark works hard in practice and he would like to reward a guy like that with floor time, but even with the Suns searching for more production upfront he has not gotten much of a chance.
From what I saw of Clark in Summer League I can’t blame Gentry for going with other options, but at some point I would like to see what the Suns have in Clark in game situations, and the Lopez injury provides the perfect time to do just that.
Nash fighting through injuries
Nash remains banged up with an assortment of injuries (groin, heel, back) and thus he considered sitting out Sunday’s game against the Nuggets to give him almost a week of recovery time before Thursday’s national TV game at Golden State.
“If things didn’t go well [Friday] I probably wouldn’t have played Sunday and just waited until Thursday and had a long break,” Nash said. “It was OK, so I’ll be ready to go on Sunday.”
Gani Lawal fouled out in 10:17 of Iowa’s 123-111 win over Tulsa on Friday, scoring two points and grabbing one board.
Lawal is averaging 9.8 points and 6.3 rebounds per contest in four games with Iowa.
On the other side, Suns training camp invitee Zabian Dowdell put up a 22-7-6 line for Tulsa.